Dixon walked down the hall with his sister as they left the great hall. It had grown late, and she had consumed far too much ale. She over consumed quite regularly at large functions. Being around so many people always made her nervous and led her to drink. On nights like this, Dixon would walk Kerrigan to her chambers and put her to bed. She would hold his arm as she walked, often it was all that held her up.
When they reached the hall, which led to their rooms, Kerrigan’s legs buckled, and she fell. Dixon quickly caught her as she dropped. As her weight fell against him, Dixon stumbled, and his shoulder hit the door next to him. Catching himself, Dixon stood up and lifted Kerrigan into his arms. Adjusting her weight, Dixon opened the door across the hall. He paused as he turned sideways so he could carry his sister through the door. The door he had stumbled into opened, and Dixon saw Savea as she had come to the door to investigate the noise.
She looked at him, and their eyes met. She looked like she had been crying. He felt bad about that, but he could not allow her to leave. Too much depended on their union. Dixon went into the room and carried Kerrigan to her bed. Lying her down, he pulled the furs up around her to ward off the cold of the night. Dixon then walked back to the door. Stepping out, his eyes met hers once more, then he crossed the hall to the door just down the hall. He could feel her eyes follow him. He refused to look at her. Opening the door, he entered his room and closing the door; he shut out the world.
Savea sat in her window, watching the village below. It was early morning, and the village was coming to life. She heard a knock on her door. Turning her head, she watched a middle-aged servant enter carrying a large tray with two platters of food. The woman placed the tray on the table. Savea slipped off the window ledge. She walked over to the table to inspect the food. Each plate had two fresh eggs, a roll, some kind of meat, and a glass of fresh milk.
“Why are there two plates?” She asked the woman.
“Because it is meant to feed two people.” Savea turned to see Dixon enter her chambers dressed and ready for the day as he approached the table. It looked as though he might have been awake for hours. “Begone.” He dismissed the servant. The woman left the room quickly, closing the door behind her. “I thought we could share the morning meal and talk.” He said, taking one of the seats.
“I am uninterested in eating with you.” She snarled.
“Sit down and do not be difficult.” He said, reaching for his fork and knife. Savea refused to join him. Dixon slammed both his hands on the table. “I said, sit down!” He barked, making her jump. Savea reluctantly took the seat across from Dixon and watched as he took a calming breath. “We will be taking all our meals together from now on.” He informed her his tone softer now. He proceeded to slice his meat. “Did you sleep well?” He asked.
“Do you even care?” She asked.
Dixon fixed Savea with a hard glare. “I am making an effort; things may be more pleasant for all involved if you do the same.”
Savea considered his words. She supposed if she was to spend her life with this man, she ought to get to know him better. She reached for her role and tore it in half, then used it to break open the egg and soak up the rich, runny yolk. “Do you often carry Kerrigan to her bed?” He looked up from his plate, and she could see the shame and vulnerability she often saw in Mar’s eyes though Savea was certain Dixon’s shame was very different though it seemed to have a similar effect.
“Kerrigan often drinks to excess at public functions. Because of her stutter, large groups often leave her feeling anxious. So she tries to drink away her nerves.”
“Do people make fun of her?” Savea asked.
He looked her dead in the eye. “Not in front of me. They would not dare. They know I would cut them down.” His gaze lowered to the food. “But when I am not around, it is a different story altogether. The people know Kerrigan is too soft-hearted. She cries about the mocking, but she will never tell me who is mocking her. So I have no idea whose head to cut off.”
She could understand his frustration. It was nice that he wished to protect his sister. She would have never believed this man to be protective of anyone. But he protected his sister the way she protected her brother, though poor Kerrigan wore her humiliation outwardly.
“I think it is wonderful how you care for your sister.” She said, and Dixon looked at her with surprise, and she could almost see a softer side of him.
“She is all I have. When I was a child, our mother fell gravely ill. She began to believe things that were not true. She thought there were tiny monsters in the palace that were trying to kill her. She lived in fear until one day; she decided she would never escape them, so she threw herself off the palace roof. She died on impact with the ground. A few years later, our father was murdered in his bed, leaving Kerrigan in my charge. I must protect her for no one else will.”
Savea felt for him having lost both his parents in such horrible ways. She did not know how that felt; both her parents were alive and well; though she could understand it was a terrible loss. “I am sorry for your loss.”
His gaze lifted and was hard once more. “What do you know of loss? I doubt you have ever lost anything in your life.”
“Well, I lost my freedom.” She snapped back.
“Oh, yes, you will be Queen; how you must suffer.” He snarled mockingly.
“Oh, you are a real delight.” She hissed back. “You claim you want to be civil; then you snap at me when I try to make conversation.”
“No, you are right; I am sorry.” Savea was caught completely off guard. She had not expected Dixon to apologize, especially so readily. “So many years of hating each other, it is hard to put it aside and make peace.” She supposed she could understand that. She supposed on some small level she felt the same way. She hated this man because of the stories she heard. Stories told by his enemies; then again, his behaviour since she got here had done very little to change her opinion. Dixon folded his arms on the edge of the table then leaned forward as he fixed her with what was probably the man’s most sincere look. “Look, Savea; I am willing to put my hostilities aside if you are willing to do the same. We are to be stuck with each other until the day death parts us. I do not want to spend my life fighting the mother of my children. There is too much hate; it needs to end.”
“You threatened to murder my brother.”
“You refused to honour the agreement otherwise.” He reminded her. “You forced my hand.”
“Are you suggesting you might not have killed him?”
“Oh no, I would have defiantly killed him. I do not make idle threats, that is the first thing you must know about me. When I say I will do something, you may consider it as good as done.” He sat back in his chair and watched her. “There is too much tension between us. I think it would be wise for us to spend more time together. Do you play chess?”
“I do.” She said with excitement, her face lit up. “I love chess; I am fairly good at it.”
“So am I. I have never lost. Perhaps we may play a game and see which of us can outmaneuver the other.”
Savea rather liked the idea of outsmarting Dixon on the chessboard. “I think that would be a wonderful way to kill some time.” After all, at the moment, she was sitting around bored.
“I have a chess table back in my chambers if you are interested in taking our meal next door.” He offered.
Save stood up and picked up her platter and glass. “I think that would be acceptable.”
Dixon smiled and rose to his feet. He picked up his plate and glass. “Then, let us move.” Savea followed Dixon out into the hall and down to his chambers next door. For the first time since she arrived in Grangely, she was excited about something. Dixon pushed open the door and stepped aside to allow her to enter. Once inside, he shut the door and carried his meal to the table and placed it down.
Savea did the same and then looked around his private chambers. Next to the fireplace were a large wooden washtub and a large barrel filled with water. There was a small table to eat at and then in a small table with a chessboard carved into the tables top and a large wooden bock filled with the game pieces. There was a huge bed built of wood with tall posts and magnificent carvings in the wood — a large feather mattress with pillows and a fur blankets to ward off the chilling winter nights ahead. At the foot of the bed was a long iron chest that was locked. There was a stand in the corner that held his armour, which she had to admit his armour was both intimidating yet impressive.
Braced on the stand with his armour was his sword. Resting on two iron posts protruding from the wall hung an amazing battle axe. Savea walked over to the axe to get a better look. It was beautiful. The weapon was half her size. On one side was a sharp slicing edge while, on the other side, a large blunt hammer. The head and handle were cast from one complete peace of iron. The handle wrapped in leather strips for a better grip. Carved into the head of the axe was his family’s complete battle history. It was incredible work. The craftsmen who made it were exceptionally talented.
“Do you like it?” Dixon asked, coming to stand next to Savea.
“It is exquisite.” She confessed.
“My father gave it to me when I was thirteen. He told me the day I could wield it is the day I would become a man. I must have worked with this axe for hours every day, trying to get strong enough to swing it. By the time I was fourteen, I was a man.” He said with a proud smile.
She chuckled. “It took you a year to lift an axe?”
Dixon reached out with one hand, his long fingers closing around the handle. He lifted it from its resting place and then held it out for her to take so that she might feel the weight of it. Savea reached out, but Dixon stopped her. “I suggest you use both hands.”
Savea held out both hands as he placed the weapon in her hands. He released his hold on it, and the weight of it nearly dropped Savea to her knees. The head of the axe hit the stone floor, and it was all Savea could do not to drop it on her foot. Had it hit her foot, it would have likely shattered every bone in her foot. The axe was extremely heavy, and Savea was ashamed to admit she had not the strength to lift it.
Dixon laughed at her expense. “Now, you understand why it took me so long.” He said, reaching down and lifting the axe returning it to its place on the wall.
Savea continued her inspection of the room. There were unlit torches on the wall. There was a large wooden wardrobe which likely had his clothes. She glanced at the windows and around the room and up. Savea noticed a large iron ring mounted in the thick beam of the wooden rafter above them. Looking down, she noticed a similar ring mounted into the middle of the wooden footboard. Just above the box. Turning around, she noticed a large wooden chair made comfortable with furs just sitting in the middle of the room, facing absolutely nothing. She did not understand.
Save pointed up at the ring in the rafters. “What is that for?”
Dixon gave her a look that suggested her question was stupid. “You hang things from it.”
Savea walked over to the box and touched the lock. “What is in here?”
“Nothing you need to concern yourself with.” He told her and gestured to the chess table. “Shall we play?” He asked, taking his seat. Savea joined him at the table, watching as he opened the box on the table and set up the pieces.
Once the game was ready, Savea made the first move. It was not long after her move that Dixon made his first. Savea studied the board, trying to figure out what his strategy might be. The best way to win this game was to anticipate the next move one’s opponent would make. Savea would often play this game with her paternal grandfather. Mani was a clever man, and when they played with one another, he never just let her win. Savea had played with him for six years before she won a match with her grandfather. She felt his teachings had made her a better strategist. After all, when one was in battle, strategy was often the difference between living and dying.
Savea made her next move, and Dixon took equal time considering his. As Dixon studied the pieces, Savea studied him. That scar across his left eye. It was thick but very old. It must have hurt tremendously when he received it. She was stunned that he had managed to retain the use of his eye. He could have very easily had lost it. “Your scar is that the one my grandfather gave you?” She had heard the stories about how Cain had blinded the young, and at the time, foolish King.
“I ran into battle hastily, and I paid the price. It was a lesson I learnt well. Fools rush in where wise men wait.” He said, moving his piece. “Your move, My Dear.” Savea studied her options carefully. “I was blinded during the battle that day; your grandfather could have ended me right there; he chose not to. I could not see; it would not have been a fair fight. I learnt respect for Cain after that. Though he was my enemy, he was an honourable man. It is why I gave him your grandmother.”
Savea looked up at him questioningly. “You gave him my grandmother?” He nodded. “My grandmother came over from Scotland.”
“Not the Queen, your paternal grandmother.”
Dixon laughed. “Not the woman they told you was your grandmother, your real grandmother.” Savea was confused. Was Sanna not her father’s mother? “You might not know of her. She was executed before you were born. So I heard.”
“I have another grandmother?”
“What was her name?”
“What was she like?”
“She was a bat shit crazy, manipulative, homicidal bitch.” Well, that would explain why no one ever spoke of her. “She single-handily started the war between our clans when she murdered my father in his bed and made it seem as though Cain was responsible. By the time I realized I was being manipulated, there was no stopping the war.” Savea could see what looked like remorse in his eyes. “Again, I was young and headstrong. I rushed into war, and there was a heavy price.” For a moment, she thought she heard regret in his tone. “How about we make a wager?”
“Wager?” She repeated with interest.
“If you win, I forgive you your obligation and let you out of this union.” Dixon offered.
There had to be a catch. “And if you win?”
“You agree to come to my chambers each morning, and we play a game.”
Her freedom or a daily chess game, she really could not see how she could lose. “Deal.”
“Would you like to start over?” He offered.
“No. I am confident in my ability to win this one.” She said with a cunning smile.
Savea made her move, and then Dixon made his almost immediately. She looked over the board, studying the layout of the pieces. After a few minutes, she made her move and again, Dixon made his immediately after. Savea looked up at Dixon, who was sitting relaxed and comfortable in his seat watching her watch him. His confidence made her nervous.
Savea took her time then made a move she was highly confident in. She smiled at him, and his grin grew. Without looking at the board, he moved his piece immediately while never breaking eye contact. “Check.” He said with that sly grin.
Savea looked down at the board. She was in danger of losing this game with one more move. She looked around, trying to figure out how to get out of this. As she studied the pieces, Savea could see how Dixon had trapped her. No matter what move she made now, he could win the whole game with three different possible moves. If she defended against one, she exposed herself to another. She hated to admit it, but he had her; there was no way she could win this match.
Sighing, she moved her peace, and he moved his. “Checkmate.” He said, using his piece to topple hers.
Savea felt duped. He had won the game so effortlessly after she agreed to his wager. When before he took his time, which had been done to throw her off the fact that the man was a bloody strategic genius. Savea shook her head. “You were toying with me in the beginning. I had no chance of winning that game, did I?”
“I offered to allow you to start over.”
“Best two out of three?”
“If you wish.” He said, moving the pieces to set up for another game.
Savea made the first move, and this time Dixon went for the throat right off. Within seven moves, he had taken the game once more.
Save shook her head. She did not like losing. “Best three out of five?”
Dixon set up the table for the next game. Savea made the first move, and Dixon took her King in four. Ok, this was starting to get annoying. “How do you keep doing that?”
“Years of practice.” A knock at the door drew their attention. “Enter.” The door opened, and Hoth came in. “Yes?”
“Sorry to intrude, Your Majesty, but there are matters that require your attention.”
Dixon turned back to Savea. “If you would excuse me, My Dear, the kingdom does not run itself.” He said, standing up. “I will see you at lunch.” She watched as Dixon left the room with Hoth. Savea looked over the board. How did he keep beating her with such ease?